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  • Writer's pictureS. McKiernan

China's Not-So-Hidden Genocide

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

There is an old Uyghur proverb: a word spoken, a bullet fired. We’ve heard minimal shooting. Coverage of the current Uyghur genocide has gone eerily silent during the Chinese government’s attempts to eliminate its muslim-chinese population. To understand this, some context is necessary. The Uighur or Uyghurs are of Turkik origin and reside in Northwest China, native to Xinjiang. About 12 million Uyghers live in China and about 1 million have been interned since so-called re-education camps were constructed in 2017. I urge you to keep the Uyghers on your mind and in your prayers as they are subjected to this torment. But also, I implore that you spread the word; let everyone hear what the Chinese government does not want you to know.

Violent islamophobia has been guised under notions of deterring “islamic domestic terrorism”. BBC noted allegations as such:

“Human rights groups believe China has detained more than a million Uighurs over the past few years in what the state defines as "re-education” camps. There is evidence of Uighurs being used as forced labour and of women being forcibly sterilised.The US is among several countries to have accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its repression of the Uighurs. China denies such allegations, saying it has been combatting separatism and Islamist militancy in the region” (BBC 2020).

Yet, even as the United States condemns them, they have nevertheless dismissed the illegal detainment and genocide of the Uygher people. President Biden said in a CNN conference:

“To vastly overstate it, the central principle of [Chinese president] Xi Jinping is that there must be a united, tightly controlled China, and he uses his rationale for the things he does based on that. I point out to him: no American president can be sustained as a president if he doesn’t reflect the values of the United States. I'm not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uyghurs in western mountains of China and Taiwan trying to end the one Child policy by making it forceful. He gets it. Culturally there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow” (CNN Town Hall).

Not only is this a vast understatement, but it is also completely inaccurate to attribute imprisonment, forced sterilization, abuse, slave labor, torture and mass murder to “cultural differences.” Yet Biden is not only complacent in his stance on China, he is encouraging. He said in this interview (in defense of China) that, historically, China has been at its strongest when it is tightly unified. In other words, he claims China’s current actions are “unifying”.

It’s disgusting how little politicians care for the basic human rights of civilians under their and others’ leadership. It’s mind boggling how they feed into each other’s behaviours. China's ambassador, Zhang Jun, used the United States’ own systemically upheld racism as an excuse for why an investigation on China is unnecessary. According to VOAnews, he cited Black Lives Matter and George Floyd. Conveniently side-stepping the Uighur issue, he claimed China's human rights achievements are "widely recognized" and urged Washington to "take a good look in the mirror" and eliminate racial discrimination in its own society before “attacking other countries” (Besheer, 2020).  Racial injustice and civil unrest has been a prominent subject in the United States, and it is not one to be ignored. Police brutality has been a prominent issue in the U.S for many years. Under the Trump Administration, border restrictions were increased to lethal levels, sending ICE on a rampage. You can read about first hand experiences in “Letters From Ice Detainees Expose Desperate Prison Conditions Amid Coronavirus Pandemic” by Corra Currier. Similarly, the plights of Chinese concentration camp survivors are all too valuable, but may never be heard. The state of prisons at the U.S/Mexico border are inhumane and, no doubt, similar to China’s camps. But this does not diminish the fact that China is perpetrating a muslin haulocast. And this does not negate that China’s camps must be eradicated. A New York Times article feature video “Secret Video Offers Rare Look Inside Chinese Labor Program” provides insight as to what is actually happening to Uyghers put into these camps. It also discusses why and when the U.S State department classified it as genocide.

The Geneva convention, enforced by the U.N, defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” For example, killing, causing serious harm to, inflicting conditions calculated to bring physical destruction of, preventing births, or forcibly transferring the children of a particular group. The destruction of the group through this means, whether partial or whole, classifies as genocide (Article II). But as we know, little has been done since China’s actions were officially deemed genocidal. In U.N News “Uyghur workers have allegedly been forcibly employed in low-skilled, labor-intensive industries, such as agribusiness, textile and garment, automotive and technological sectors,” said Dante Pesce, Chairperson of the Working Group. “While the Government of China justifies its actions relating to the treatment of Uyghurs by combatting terrorism and violent extremism, poverty alleviation or development purposes, we nevertheless respectfully urge the Government to immediately cease any such measures that are not fully compliant with international law, norms and standards relating to human rights, including the rights of minorities’” (UN News, 2021).

China responded by gaslighting their global audience. According to Aljazeera News:

“China has rejected “slanderous attacks” about conditions for Muslim Uighurs and other minorities living in its Xinjiang region, saying that they enjoyed freedom of religion and other fundamental rights. Foreign Minister Wang Yi, addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, said there were 24,000 mosques in the western region, adding that “basic facts show that there has never been so-called genocide, forced labour or religious oppression in Xinjiang.”

The article goes on to say that “that at least one million Muslims are imprisoned in camps in the remote western region. China denies abuses and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism” (Aljazeera 2021).

It's been the same rhetoric for years now: blaming alleged Uyghur domestic threats for their detainment, while not specifically classifying it as detainment (despite the existing U.N backed evidence proving it as such), and the same contradictory statements from foreign countries.The U.S is especially complicit: denouncing China’s actions to the U.N one minute and commending them the next. Consistency and a firm stance against injustice, ethnic cleansing, and violence on the basis of religion is more necessary now than ever before. The U.S must take responsibility for its own atrocities and then commence in condemning China’s, as should the rest of the world. Calling this anything than what it is, genocide, is not only innaccurate, but it is despicable. And simply doing nothing is unacceptable, let alone supporting China in their efforts to eradicate the Uygher people.

It’s tragic what is happening. It’s harrowing what isn’t. There are so few words spoken, and bullets fired. Any coverage, media attention, information spread about what is going on is valuable, and sparse. So the more demands made for U.N intervention and any possible assistance the Uyghers can get is a victory. Every spoken word, every reader like you, gets the ball of change rolling. We must continue paying attention and educating ourselves until this horror is put to an end.


At UN: 39 Countries Condemn China's Abuses of Uighurs . Voice of America. (2020, October 6).

Al Jazeera. (2021, February 22). China rejects Uighurs genocide charge, invites UN's rights chief. Uighur News | Al Jazeera.

BBC. (2021, March 26). Who are the Uighurs and why is China being accused of genocide? BBC News.

United Nations. (2021, March 29). Rights experts concerned about alleged detention, forced labour of Uyghurs in China | | UN News. United Nations.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Approved and proposed for signature and ratification or accession by General Assembly resolution 260 A (III) of 9 December 1948 Entry into force: 12 January 1951, in accordance with article XIII

Westcott, B., & Wright, R. (2021, March 10). Exclusive: New report claims evidence of Beijing's 'intent to destroy' Uyghur people. CNN.

Gonchar, M., & Daniels, N. (2021, January 25). Lesson of the Day: 'China's Oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang, Explained'. The New York Times.

Cable News Network. (2021, February 17). Biden reveals conversation with Chinese president on human rights - CNN Video. CNN.

Wood, B. (n.d.). What is happening with the Uighurs in China? PBS.

Fiddler, M. (n.d.). Friends, enemies, and fools: A collection of Uyghur proverbs.

Currier, C. (2020, July 27). Letters From ICE Detainees Expose Desperate Prison Conditions Amid Coronavirus Pandemic. The Intercept.

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